By Sharon Robb
CARBONDALE, Colo., July 2, 2018---The much-anticipated summer polo season gets under way Tuesday with the Independence Cup at Aspen Valley Polo Club.
Piocho will take on Aspen Valley Polo Club at 3 p.m. (Mountain Standard Time). It will be live streamed by Wellington, Fla.-based ChukkerTV at 5 p.m. (EST) in South Florida with veteran broadcaster Dale Schwetz calling the action.
Piocho is led by Nacho Figueras, polo's ambassador known for promoting the sport to the masses and face of Ralph Lauren. Figueras, a frequent player at Aspen Valley Polo Club, will be joined by Tom Barrack, Carlitos Gracida and Georgetown University-bound Riley Ganzi, at 18, the youngest player in the final.
Aspen Valley Polo Club features Pablo Dorignac, Juan Bollini and husband and wife and club co-owners Melissa and Marc Ganzi.
The Barrack family owns Piocho Ranch, acquired in 1992, and features rolling acres of vineyards nestled in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Calif. Piocho Ranch combines the family's passion for polo and the art of wine making. The vineyards have produced six wines: Ten Goal, Brand, Blanc, Piocho, Chukker and Piocho Sauvignon Blanc. Piocho means "where the two rivers meet and go to heaven."
With the majestic 12,965-foot summit of Mount Sopris as a backdrop, Aspen Valley Polo Club is one of the busiest and fastest growing USPA-sanctioned clubs in the nation with a membership increase of 75 percent over four seasons.
In last year's Independence Cup, La Karina (Carlitos Gracida, Mariano Gracida, Brian Boyd, Marc Ganzi) won with a thrilling 9-7 victory over Aspen Valley Polo Club (Collen Clark, Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Lucas Lalor). Boyd was Most Valuable Player after scoring five goals.
Gracida, the son of legendary Hall of Famer and former 10-goaler Carlos Gracida, has won the Independence Cup two consecutive years. In 2016, he was a member of the winning Flexjet team.
Last year Casablanca was the club's winningest team with three tournament wins during the summer season. La Karina won two tournaments.
The season features an expanded 13-tournament schedule with ten grass tournaments including the inaugural Aug. 31-Sept. 2 Triple Crown of Polo Trophy and three arena tournaments highlighted by the July 24-Aug. 7 USPA National Arena Handicap. It will be the first year the club will host a tournament on Labor Day Weekend during the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience.
For the second consecutive year, Aspen Valley Polo Club will host the USPA National Arena Handicap Tournament. It is the second time in several years that the tournament will be played as a stand-alone tournament.
The annual event dates back to 1980 and is a national USPA tournament played at medium goal level. In the past, the tournament has been played as a subsidiary to the U.S. Open Arena Polo Championship at Country Farms Polo Club in Medford, N.Y.
In last year's USPA National Arena Handicap, Flexjet (Melissa Ganzi, Juan Bollini, Alejandro Novillo Astrada) defeated Audi (Marc Ganzi, Nacho Novillo Astrada, Stewart Armstrong), 12-9, to win the title.
This will also be the first season players will compete for the Triple Crown of Polo. The three legs will be held at Denver Polo Club, Aspen Valley Polo Club and finish in Wellington this fall. Designed by Tiffany & Co., the Triple Crown of Polo is comprised of three separate trophies that fit perfectly together to create an entire polo scene that is breathtaking in sterling silver.
Aspen Valley Polo Club, coming off its most successful season in club history, has a star-studded roster of players lined up for the summer to compete with and against patrons and amateur players including brothers Nacho and Alejandro Novillo Astrada, two of the world's top players from Argentina. Also expected to compete is Nic Roldan, the highest rated American player and winner of the recent Cartier Queens Cup with La Indiana; newly-named Team USPA member Grant Ganzi, Juancito Bollini, Alex Gooding, Stewart Armstrong and Brian Boyd among others.
Since Marc and Melissa Ganzi took over the club in 2014, polo has increased in popularity in Aspen and surrounding cities with the club’s offerings of various weekly grass and arena tournaments, Gladiator Tuesdays and Asado, Kids Polo and The Polo School. In addition, the club offers practice sessions for teams competing in the weekend tournaments.
For the second consecutive year, Marc and Melissa Ganzi were named to The Salonniere 100 annual list of the nation's best party hosts in Aspen for 2018. The Salonniere is the premier and award-winning site dedicated exclusively to the art of party-hosting and entertaining. The Ganzis join Oprah Winfrey, actress Reese Witherspoon and husband and wife Cindy Crawford and Rande Gerber among honorees from 34 cities and 28 states.
In the last four years, Aspen Valley Polo Club has had a positive impact in the area hosting kids polo camps, teaching lessons and hosting several charitable events at the club that have benefitted local charities including last season's Champagne, Caviar & Chukkers fundraiser that raised $366,000 for the Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation.
The Ganzis are avid players and patrons and "have put new life into polo" in the area according to local player Alex Gooding. Several players, sponsors and community leaders share Gooding's sentiments.
Named after trees that quiver in the slightest breeze, Aspen offers hiking, mountain biking, rafting, fishing, golf, horseback riding, great restaurants, shops and taverns in addition to a full summer of polo.